Top marks for SharePoint at Brisbane Catholic Education

SharePoint is providing a united Enterprise Content Management platform for schools in the Brisbane Catholic Education system.

Brisbane is just one of five Catholic Education Dioces’ across Queensland that have no real commonality of approach to information management.

Each uses a different assortment of financial and enterprise applications which necessarily leads to an independent approach to collaboration and content management.

The situation is similar in the state education system.

“There is no real national forum in education ICT at the moment, I talk individually to some CIOs but there is not a lot of overlap and SharePoint is probably one of the most common across all of them,” said CIO Warren Armitage.

The 134 primary and secondary schools under Armitage’s domain will soon unite under a common platform hosted on a fully virtualised data centre in Brisbane.

This will host student administration, finance, HR/payroll, SharePoint and many other applications.  The technology platform is Microsoft-based covering device management, operations management, database management, document and records management, identity and security management.

Brisbane Catholic Education has an extensive WAN, providing services to the 134 schools across South East Queensland.  These operate approximately 20000 computers across the whole of the school community, 62000 students and 10000 staff. 

The WAN provides for fibre broadband into all schools and is managed by Telstra as part of Catholic Networks Australia which provides national education sector broadband connectivity.

“SharePoint is used as more than a content management system, it’s a backend for both our public and internal sites,” said Armitage.
Armitage has also been able to take advantage of a free enhancement to SharePoint for the education market that was partly developed in Australia with input from OBS. The Microsoft Learning Gateway is a SharePoint “add-on” that provides custom functionality for teachers and students.

A new version of the Microsoft Learning Gateway under development and scheduled for release in 2010, codenamed Uluru, indicating the high level of Australian input. This will provide that ability for teachers to automatically setup class lists so students can have their own collaborative space and setup blogs and wikis, teachers can have workgroups they can manage themselves, and also create their own portals with tailored MySites

Microsoft’s Live@edu email platform is used by teachers and students, with Exchange 2003 as the central email platform for administration staff.

i5 records management

“SharePoint was implemented as the basis for our eDRMS requirements with i5 from OBS providing the overall records and document management functionality on top of SharePoint,” said Armitage.

“Beyond standard business documents our organisations needs to manage a high volume of Payroll/HR paper documents for our 10000 employees spread across 134 schools.”

“An integrated repository was our goal as our community of users is spread across many physical locations.

The SharePoint ECM is integrated for identity management purposes with a HR/payroll solution from Talent2 using Microsoft’s ILM. The EDRMS is being implemented by i5 parent company OBS, which has worked with business units within Brisbane Catholic Education to create an information architecture and Business Classification System.

SharePoint is used to provide access to both structured and unstructured data within the organisation.  Browser-based access is provided to all significant systems including to “proof-of-concept” data marts.

Australia Post subsidiary Decipha is providing outsourced mailroom scanning capabilities for documents and invoices submitted on paper which are then stored within i5 and Sharepoint.

“Decipha scans all our inbound mail,” said Armitage, “there is still a lot of HR paper being generated.

“Teachers can achieve most of their HR functions electronically such as applying for leave however when it comes to submitting a doctor’s certificate it is still easier to pop it into an envelope than finding a scanner.”

All invoices are scanned however data entry into the financials system is still manual as the volume doesn’t justify the effort to implement an automated workflow, said Armitage.

“Most of our costs lie in salaries and that does not generate a lot of financial transactions. We don’t have lots of customers.”
Parents of Brisbane Catholic Education schoolkids can look forward to receiving report cards for their children electronically from late 2010.

Sydney developer MXL has been commissioned to create an application that will be used for delivery of school reports and student portfolios through SharePoint. In the first stage being implemented by 30 November, teachers will be able to submit their results via the portal.

“The next phase in the first half of 2010 will provide parents with access over the Internet to see reports and also communicate with teachers about results and see samples of student work,” said Armitage.

“Most of that work is now being created electronically. The federal government program means all secondary students have notebooks so it skips the step of printing things out.

Students and teachers will have mobile access to the SharePoint portal via notebooks and Apple iPhones.

Armitage said there are still some challenges to be faced before the solution is fully deployed in 2010. The technical challenges include linking school active directory domains with the central Catholic Education Office domains.

“This presents challenges for authentication and identity management and also within the SharePoint environment,” said Armitage.
“Apart from the central portal at our Brisbane office we are providing 138 separate portals for each of the schools. That will help get around the Actrive Directory issue,” he said. “We pass identity from our HR payroll to Active Directory and hence to SharePoint so the schools do not have to provision the accounts they may need for their staff and it simplifies their administration at their end. We create some default groupings of users for them using our identity management solution.

“Schools will be able to establish their own identity by being able to customise the templates available in SharePoint Designer so its not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Also on the agenda is an upgrade to Exchange 2007 and the implementation of an email archiving solution.

SharePoint is used as a Web Content Management system for central web sites, intranet portals and soon individual school portals and web sites, said CIO Warren Armitage.